Fiftieth Anniversary of the end of World War II

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Photo of Mr John Major Mr John Major , Huntingdon 3:46 pm, 25th April 1995

I beg to move,

That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, recalling the humble Addresses presented to His Majesty King George VI on the 17th May and 21st August 1945, beg leave to express to Your Majesty our joy in commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War and of the defeat of the forces of evil which it brought, our thanks for the fortitude of the men and women who served with the armed forces or who participated in the war effort in civilian life between 1939 and 1945, our recognition of the sacrifice made on behalf of future generations by those who died or who were disabled in their country's service, and our desire that the constructive work of peace for which our predecessors in 1945 prayed may continue and grow in the years to come. It has long been a tradition of the House that we mark significant national events by presenting a humble Address to the sovereign. That was the case in May 1945 when Mr. Winston Churchill moved the motion for such an Address to be presented to His Majesty King George VI. The motion on that occasion expressed the gratitude of the nation for the end of the war in Europe, together with a wish to see a speedy conclusion to the war in the east. That wish was met; just three months later the House was able to present another humble Address to His Majesty after the successful conclusion of the war against Japan.

Throughout the war, the royal family symbolised the unity of the nation and of the Commonwealth, and the willingness to make whatever sacrifices were necessary to ensure victory and the preservation of a free way of life. When Britain stood alone, the courage and determination of the King and Queen offered strength to the British people and to countless millions of people beyond our shores.

It is no surprise that Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother continues to hold such a special place in the affections of the British people. Many remember, and countless millions who were not alive at the time know, the fortitude and resilience that she and the King displayed throughout the war. The then Princess Elizabeth—a teenager when the war began, now Her Majesty the Queen—played her full part in furthering the war effort, and Her Majesty has continued to set an example of duty and service to the nation and to the Commonwealth throughout the 50 years since then.

The commemoration of the end of the war is not a triumphalist occasion, but an occasion to pay proper tribute to the millions of brave men and women whose lives were cruelly, often tragically, disrupted by the demands of the war that had to be won.

Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the Normandy landings. Everyone who took part in the commemorative events was profoundly moved by them. I, for one, will long remember the march-past of the veterans on the sands of Arromanches. There were thousands upon thousands of them—brave men and women in their 70s and 80s now, often with a chestful of medals and a mind full of memories, some with sticks, some pushed in wheelchairs, some limping, some walking, some marching, but all moving with pride before the Queen, and with their memories of their service to their nation in the last war.

As the House will know, a number of events are planned to commemorate the 50th anniversary of VE day next month and of VJ day in August. It is appropriate that the prelude to those events should be the parliamentary occasion of presenting a humble Address to the Queen.

Here in the Chamber we have a constant reminder of those days 50 years ago. The Churchill Arch, at the entrance from the Members' Lobby, was rebuilt from the original, damaged in the bombing raids of 1941. It poignantly recalls how even the mother of Parliaments made its sacrifice. As Churchill himself said, all of us present here today, who are uniquely privileged to pass through that Arch, should

look back from time to time upon their forbears who'—kept the bridgeIn the brave days of old.'"—[Official Report, 25 January 1945; Vol. 407, c. 1006.] As our Parliament sat through the war it symbolised the dogged determination of democracy; a determination to overcome tyranny and dictatorship that was shared by countless millions throughout the world. For the price of sacrifice was paid here, too. Twenty-two Members of the House—together with 35 Members of the House of Lords and five members of staff of both Houses—were killed during the war. Eighteen present Members of the House also saw active service in the war and some, perhaps all, are present here in the Chamber on this occasion. Many others now sit along the Corridor in the other place. For them, the commemorations will hold special memories; and to them, we—who inherit the parliamentary freedom that they helped protect—owe special thanks.

When His Majesty King George VI replied to the humble Address 50 years ago, he said:

It is My most fervent hope that we are entering upon an age of peaceful progress, wherein the natural talent and enterprise of My peoples can be devoted to the advancement of the happiness and prosperity of mankind."—[Official Report, 21 August 1945; Vol. 413, c. 417] Looking back over the past 50 years, we can see that many of the hopes for peace and reconciliation have been rewarded, but we have not banished conflict and terror throughout the globe. We have troops on peacekeeping and humanitarian duties in many countries. In recent days, there has been the tragic bomb attack in Oklahoma. This House has had direct experience of terrorist attacks, and several hon. Members have been the victims of terrorists.

The successful outcome of the second world war showed the importance of a determined and united effort to defeat military aggression. As we look ahead, we must exercise the same determination as was shown then, to counter the threat from terrorism, not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the world.

Madam Speaker, this is an occasion to look both back and forward. The perils of the last war dwarf the petty rancours of everyday politics today. I believe that our country has many reasons to look forward with hope to the future. I believe that, as we do so, it is right that we should look back thankfully to the sacrifices of the past. The whole House, the whole nation, the whole Commonwealth, will wish to remember and give thanks.

Photo of Tony Blair Tony Blair , Sedgefield 3:53 pm, 25th April 1995

It is my privilege to associate myself entirely with what the Prime Minister has just said and with his sentiments about the royal family. It is a time for our nation to speak with one voice of remembrance, of joy at a victory magnificently won and sadness at the loss of life necessary to achieve it.

We remember a triumph that is all the more unalloyed because it was a victory, not as much of nation over nation, as of good over evil. The fight against Hitler and fascism was, and indeed remains, the moral case for taking up arms.

I was born almost a decade after the war ended and it was my father's generation who fought it. On behalf of my generation, I say to his that we pay tribute to their sacrifice and bravery with humility and gratitude. We recall the courage of the troops who fought and, in their millions, died or were wounded. Some of them bear their wounds to this day.

We commemorate, too, the millions of men and women who never left Britain during the war, but who played such a conclusive part in it—the firefighters, the ambulance men and women, the nurses and the police—and who worked, often through the blitz and in as great danger as those at the front. We remember the factory munitions workers, Bevin's boys down the mines, and the steel and ship workers who placed production at full stretch in the war effort.

We reflect, not just on the great battles fought and the medals of honour granted, but on the countless small acts of heroism, which are often unrecorded and the memory of which may be effaced, but whose spirit won the war. The country at that time worked with one heart and one mind to one end, and succeeded. The solidarity of the nation persisted after the war in rebuilding the towns and the cities, putting people back to work, and creating the modern structures of a national health service and a welfare state capable of offering hope to heroes.

So what, at this distance of half a century, are the lessons of the war that we can learn? We learn about pride in our country—there are few nations, if any, that can claim without exaggeration to have helped save the world from tyranny. We learn about the strength of freedom and democracy as motivators of the human soul because we remember, too, today, not just ourselves but the millions in other countries—particularly perhaps those Jewish people in countries conquered by Hitler—who continued to resist, no matter what the cost. We learn about the fragility of peace and the utter catastrophe of modern warfare, which the years before and during the war amply demonstrate. We learn humankind's deadly potential, amidst progress, for regression to primitive barbarity. We know now that if we choose to appease evil as it grows, we shall in the end be forced to fight it when it is fully grown. We think that with all the knowledge of our modern world, such evil can never happen again, but that generation thought that it would never happen at all.

We fought the war, but we did not do so alone. It is right that we remember our allies, and thank them. One of the most moving stories of statesmanship in the war came in January 1941, when defeat for Britain was certainly possible. We desperately needed the help of America. Harry Hopkins, the emissary of President Roosevelt, was here. At a dinner in his honour in Scotland, he said: I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return. And then, quoting from the Bible, he said: whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God". Hopkins then added: Even to the end". That was the spirit of those times.

There was no doubt that this was a war to save civilisation. At the end of the war, as within Britain, so outside it, nation co-operated with nation to set up the institutions of international governance to act as a bulwark against disunity and aggression—the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and, later, the European Community. Amid all the cynicism about them, we should give thanks that there was the vision to build them and that, by and large, their role has been constructive and positive.

Let us hope that such a time of evil will not arise again, but let us never forget that it did. It confronted us with an intensity and menace unsurpassed in our history. Let us give thanks that we rose up against it, defeated it and so provided a future of hope for this generation and the generations yet unborn.

Photo of Mr Paddy Ashdown Mr Paddy Ashdown Leader of the Liberal Democrats 3:59 pm, 25th April 1995

I am privileged and delighted to be able to support the words in the motion moved by the Prime Minister and echoed by the leader of the Labour party.

Of course, it is absolutely right that we should express our pleasure to Her Majesty the Queen in celebrating and commemorating that victory of 50 years ago, a victory in which Her Majesty's father and family played such an extraordinary and very large part, in terms of leadership and symbolism.

Speaking in the debate to which the Prime Minister referred, the then Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said of the royal family: It is the symbol which gathers together and expresses those deep emotions and stirrings of the human heart which make men travel … and die together, and cheerfully abandon material possessions and enjoyments for the sake of abstract ideas."—[Official Report, 15 May 1945: Vol. 410, c. 2305.] They may have seemed abstract ideas at the time, although I doubt that they felt them too much, but today they mean to us no less than our freedom, our civilisation, our capacity to have survived such a terrible evil and, of course, above all an expression of our national resolve and national unity. It is therefore right that we should celebrate, but it is right also that we should remember the pain of those without whose sacrifice that victory would not have been possible.

It is impossible for us to measure the debt that we owe to those who gave, all too often, their lives or, frequently, experienced a lifetime of maimed disability to ensure that we have had this half century being able to enjoy freedom, that a great evil was defeated and that the nations of Europe could come together to seek to banish war from our continent for ever. In the shadow of that, we saw a great unity in our nation and we saw the beginnings of the building of international institutions that also seek to tackle the evil of fascism and aggression in the world today. It is a moment to celebrate; it is also a moment to remember; and it is a moment to pray that the peace for which they paid such a high price may continue for us all.

Photo of Mr Winston Churchill Mr Winston Churchill , Davyhulme 4:01 pm, 25th April 1995

Does my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister agree that, had it not been for the courage of the British nation around the globe and the steadfastness of the House of Commons and Parliament, the nations of Europe would never have been liberated and that, in such circumstances, it is by no means impossible to imagine that the Nazi swastika would to this day have been flying over the capital cities of Europe?

Will my right hon. Friend make it clear how enormously welcome Her Majesty will be when she comes to the House on 5 May and how appropriate it is that the initial phase of this 50th anniversary commemoration should start here, in the House of Commons?

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,That an humble Address he presented to Her Majesty, as follows:Most Gracious Sovereign,We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in Parliament assembled, recalling the humble Addresses presented to His Majesty King George VI on the 17th May and 21st August 1945, beg leave to express to Your Majesty our joy in commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War and of the defeat of the forces of evil which it brought. our thanks for the fortitude of the men and women who served with the armed forces or who participated in the war effort in civilian life between 1939 and 1945, our recognition of the sacrifice made on behalf of future generations by those who died or who were disabled in their country's service, and our desire that the constructive work of peace for which our predecessors in 1945 prayed may continue and grow in the years to come.

Ordered,That the said Address be presented to Her Majesty by the whole House.—[Mr. Newton.]

Ordered,That such Members of this House as are of Her Majesty's most Honourable Privy Council, do humbly know Her Majesty's Pleasure when she will be attended by the House with the said Address.—[Mr. Newton.]